This excellent news just in – Falkor seems to be back on track! Whoohoo and Phew! We want to shout it out loud, but sceptisim and a little bit of old fashioned superstition have us sheepishly whispering in rejoice. We don’t want to jinx ourselves by celebrating too loud and we certainly don’t expect the rest of the ride to be trouble free, but we are glad to report that since all the shenanigans with the rear wheel and broken handle bars, we have thoroughly enjoyed approx 900kilometres of trouble free riding. Unreal!
We don’t count punctures as problems anymore, they no longer even rate on the scale.
So we are rejoicing, just quietly and not within view of the bike.
It’s incredible to feel free again to love the journey and experience normal kinds of travel issues. The terrible burden of having a bike that constantly lets you down has been like a storm following us. We feel like we have been too scared to enjoy the road because at any minute, something will surely break and have us at a complete stop. But with this good distance between us and the last catastrophe, we feel like a brand new team all in love again; Bremma and Falkor, Totally renewed. TFFT!
Since leaving Loja, we have ridden in constantly changing vistas & climates. Entering Peru (country #14 for TotallyTandem) through Macara, we encountered the hot temperatures of riding in the desert at sea level with terrain so flat, the long and uninteresting kms stretch out before you like a boring mirage. It reminded us a bit of our long days in Baja California, except here the nights are deliciously chilly.
From those days of bug bites and ice cream overdose, we then rode over 7 mountain passes with altitudes ranging between 2000m and 4000m.
Accepting the long climbs of 30kms a day for days in a row, compared with the swift down hills that have us breathless within 10mins, we have come to love the peaceful and challenging terrain of the sierras. We have ridden through mist so thick it is impossible to see more than 5m ahead, and with a daily 3pm deluge, we rise early to get the tough kms done and camp setup before the routine drenching. And just as our bottom lips start to tremble with the idea of rainy season setting in on our South American tour, the sun comes out and the sun burn returns. It’s hard to keep up with the physical demands of these changing climates. And my cycling tan is well past what anyone would call ridiculous.
I have given up on my laundry obsession. It was a fruitless cause. We have so few items of clothing and they are perpetually wet from either sweat or washing because in these colder temperatures, it is impossible to dry them. The loathesome task of putting on wet clothes in the morning swiftly overtook any joy of soapy smelling laundry. I take no joy in washing any more.I think I have changed. In order to overcome the smell of stinky riding gear, I have a plastic bag of washing powder that I put beside my pillow when I sleep. It gives me the impression of being clean and to be honest, it lasts longer than any floral aroma clinging hopelessly to my clothes. Bren thinks I am crazy, but I think I am being quite practical. Of course I have enough undies and socks to rotate through a hand wash to be pegged to the back of the bike for the day ride lavandaria. It always makes for interesting conversation when people come to ask us about every part of the bike, including my drying smalls.
The life of a touring cyclist means the abandonment of privacy for the most part. Unless you stay in hotels, which I must admit, we have done more of in Peru than anywhere else. Well, I say hotel but that absolutely gives the wrong impression. More like paying to stay in a fire trap while snoozing to the sounds of other guests snoring, farting, shouting on their phones and listening to terrible TV at ridiculous levels. About as sound proof as a tent, but with less emergency escapes. So while it is possible to at least get completely naked to have a shower in these ‘Hotels’, privacy is still a high commodity. And I don’t remember the last time I had a shower in bare feet. But hotels have been necessary with Bren catching a really good cold and making camping in the wet too risky. With the goal of making it to Cajamarca of course he didn’t want to take a days rest, also added to the incentive to keep going was the increased risk of actually being trapped in one of these ‘hotels’.
We rode 6 days straight from Loja to Olmos and took a day off there, where we pretty much just ate, slept and showered constantly. When you have access to running water after a long spate of always searching for it, you would be surprised how many showers you find yourself needing in 24hours.
One day off the bike can feel like several when you rest well, and we set off again gladly leaving the principal road to head into the mountains for 8 days of long climbs and incredible encounters.
Local people rarely understand the routes we choose. Peru has seen so much development over the last decade with incredible advances in infrastructure, when cyclists come along and ditch these lovely new paved highways for decrepit mountain roads, they laugh with confusion.
But highways are for those who have distinct plans and need to arrive somewhere quickly. They offer little opportunity to meet people and actually experience the road. For us it really is about the journey with the daily destination being determined by our experiences of the day.
And there have been some truly awesome roadside encounters. On our 2nd night in Peru, we were delighted to meet 5 Americans embarking on a 2week moto-taxi race.
We had ridden 100km of boring desert terrain and took refuge from the growing wind in a chicken ‘restaurant’ (inverted commas used again to reflect a loose connection with the common definition). After weeks of conversing only in Spanish, the chance to speak English was pretty exciting for us. Perhaps we got a little too excited as 2 cervezas turned into 2 too many and we all spent the night camping out on the floor of the ‘restaurant’. It was an excellent slumber party though.
The next day we encountered 2 other moto-taxi teams with members from England and South Africa. It was a great day riding, despite the hang overs.
And one chance encounter leads to another. Arriving in the town of Cutervo, we were absconded by a man hanging out of a taxi while shouting at us “Welcome to my town! I speak English. Where do you stay? Let’s meet in the town square now!”. Indeed we met our new friend Oscar in the town square and were promptly interviewed for a Lima newspaper. Within 4 minutes, we were surrounded by a crowd of more than 40 people, all smiling and desperately curious to know how and why we were visiting their town.12 months ago I would have felt terribly nervous about such an instance, but now we are Totally comfortable with all the questions and close encounters. Anyone can look scary until they smile, and people smile pretty quickly when they see us on Falkor. I guess we are quite the sight, especially in a small town in the Andean mountains.
Meeting Oscar was quite serendipitous as it turned out. Before we left the next morning, he arrived at our ‘hotel’ to invite us to his house for coffee and to take a photo of us in his traditional hats and ponchos.
We said our farewells and took off down the road hearing shouts from strangers. As their cries became desperate we pulled over to see what the fuss was about. Oscar came running down the street flailing his arms, “My friends, you go the wrong way. Please, take this road. You go this way, it’s much better for you.”
Now Goober (our Garmin GPS) is not always one to be trusted. Very rarely in fact. And we have seen several maps of Peru, all with different versions of where the principal routes are. Difficult to maintain accurate records with all that new insafrustruxture I guess, so Peru has proved a new challenge with mapping. Brendon carefully plans our routes based on Google maps and the advice from other cyclists and we felt confident with our intended direction. Also randomly, it was the only connecting road showing on Goober. We knew it was a mountain pass and predicted it would be dirt but we guessed the 60km road to Chota would take us all day and we were ready for it. Until Oscar told us otherwise. The way he urged us to take was apparently the ‘routa principal’ and ‘todo pavimiento’, all paved. From our very recent experiences, although trying desperately to be genuinely helpful, Peruvians do not always have a great understanding of functioning roads or directions in general.
So we were in a tricky spot because we liked Oscar and we wanted to trust him, but our instincts & research were telling us that to take the advice of this man and head off in the opposite direction we planned on a road that was not on our GPS, well, it was a leap of faith to be sure. We stood on the side of the road for about 20 minutes while Oscar pointed out the pros and cons of both routes. We came to an unspoken agreement with a quick nose scrunch that we would pretend to take his route and wait till he could not see us, then turn around and take our original route. But Oscar was very persistent and I think he was on to us. He grabbed a pen and paper and drew both routes. It’s a less than convincing manouver when someone starts to hand draw a map. But the thing that swayed us in the end was the way he drew the road surface on our intended road; he drew waves.
“Yes you can take this route, it will be difficult for you but you are very strong. If you like this road more you can take it, but you will arrive in Chota in 2 days. If you take the principal road, you can be in Chota in a few hours.”
It’s hard to have faith in other people’s ideas of our abilities. They either think we are super-human able to ride any gradient or road surface effortlessly and that 150km days are easy, or that we are very naive about how dangerous the roads are and fairly stupid to attempt it at all. We weren’t sure what camp Oscar was from but the way he drew those waves got our attention. Now, we can have a decent conversation in Spanish about road conditions and have learnt several new terms to describe the various sorts of torture Peruvian roads offer, but nothing about waves. And Oscar couldn’t think of a way to describe it in English. Mud? Sand? Gravel? He shook his head, “very bumpy my friends, very slow for you, very steep like this” and he demonstrated a ridiculous gradient.
Well, let’s forget all of the profile mapping and research on this road and instead throw caution to the wind. After all, Oscar was “siento percento serguro” 100% certain, that his way was best for us, “longer for you but faster for your bike”. So we plotted a route on Goober to lead us out of town and into the great blank space that was apparently the principal route. Why Goober had only the most difficult road showing and not the principal route was not so curious. Goober can be a real….character.
Off we set again, this time with a boding sense of thrill at what was in store for us. It was kind of exciting. We were at the mercy of the road and within minutes we found ourselves on a muddy road splat bang in the middle of a bull auction. Cows, bulls and very confused farmers in huge hats surrounded us. Normally people are happily surprised to see us but this time they were just plain dumbfounded. There was some serious wheeling and dealing underway, and despite the crazy situation, for the first time in our journey people tried to ignore us. I fell apart and couldn’t stop laughing. There was no way we could ride through this throng of wrangling and I had to get off the bike so Bren could navigate a path through all the mooing. We came dangerously close to the tail of a cow and an explosion of diarrhea that we would later discover had sprayed over the length of us and Falkor. Some hot slivers even made their way into Bren’s sandals. This did nothing to cease my fit of hysterics.
Clearly, this day was not going to go according to any plan and the fact that Goober did not have the main road marked could prove a good thing given our current location that he navigated us to.
Deciding to navigate the old fashioned way by asking questions and following road signs, we made our way onto the principal route. It was by no means paved. In fact by the end of the day, we think that approximately 15% of the 67 km was actually paved.
But what a day! Incredible views, an astonishing amount of serious roadworks and a restored sense of adventure that lead us right into another touring cyclist.
Enter Elkin, a touring cyclist from Bogota Colombia. We didn’t even see his heavily laden bike tucked in between a row of motor bikes when we stopped for lunch. But there he was, sitting in his lycras tucking into some soup.
Delighted to see him, I went straight over and commenced a firing squad of questions. It’s so rare that touring cyclists find each other on the road. You can be bending down to pick up a stone and simply miss each other. Timing is everything.
We had all stayed in the same small town the night before and not seen or heard of each other, and we were all aiming for the Chota.
“Vamos a ser compañeros? Te gustaría viajar juntos?” Would you like company? Shall we ride together?
And so it was that we became 3 cyclists together riding some incredible steeps, wonderful mountain valleys, and insane winds over the next5 days.
For us, travelling is all about meeting people. Never do we learn more about a place than when we meet someone else to enjoy it with. And Elkin was excellent company. With not much English but fantastic communication skills, the 3 of us slipped into an easy companionship that saw the grueling up hill kms glide by. He pretended our Spanish was great and he never tried to communicate on our behalf. We ate together, stayed in the same ‘hotels’, shared a campsite in a crazy windy valley at 3800m, and spent hours relaying our stories.
We felt triumphant arriving in Cajamarca together but very reluctant to say goodbye.
“Uno mass cerveza?”. We all know there is always time for one more beer before goodbye.
Goals are very important to us on this journey and Cajamarca has been an important one. Initially we were hoping to have some post sent ahead to us here but with the Peru postal service being on strike for 2 months (and counting) we swiftly gave up on that. Don’t want another repeat of the Mexican post debacle!
So our major goal was to make it here to visit the International School ‘Davy College’. We absolutely love to visit schools and share our journey with the students, and our visit here was exactly what the doctor ordered. While we were there to share our inspiration with them, seeing 300 eager faces desperate to have their questions answered is a special kind of inspiration for us. It gives us a renewed perspective on what we are doing and the power of their curious energy is incredibly upIifting. Kids are the best.
And the Principal of the Primary school, Matthew Geiger, kindly connected us with one of his teachers, Miss Mistina, and she welcomed us into her lovely home. There is nothing better than having a location to arrive at, to have an address to head to where you can definitely stay. She invited us in, fed us home cooked pizza and poured us a wine. Clearly, we became instant friends.
Mistina lives in a part of Cajamarca called Banos del Inca, which literally translates as “baths of the Incas”. And in her house, she has a huge bathtub with natural hot spring water delivered straight into her faucets. Can you believe that? It’s like a dream come true! Her bath is so huge it takes an hour to fill up and then you can practically swim in it. Our weary muscles have never been happier. We spent a wonderfully few relaxing days chilling out & soaking in her tub before we set off into the hills on a 12 hour bus trip to visit the ruins of Kuelap.
Originally, we planned a different route that would have us ride through Kuelap and then south to Cajamarca. But with all the problems we had with the bike in Ecuador and the difficulties we had heard about this route, we decided to ride a different road and head more ‘directly’ to Cajamarca.
However, sitting on the bus and staring out the window at the completely paved and gorgeous road, we were kicking ourselves. It looked like an incredible ride. But we still relished the opportunity to take a break from the bike and be ‘regular tourists’ enjoying a different form of transport for a change.
We hiked the beautiful trail to Gocta Falls and spent my birthday visiting the ruins of Kuelap. The mountains in Peru are just mind blowing, with the narrow winding roads offering completely unbelievable views. We constantly have our breathe taken away.
Brendo surprised me with a very fancy birthday picnic consisting of wine, cheese and chocolate and we spent the evening feasting, utterly exhausted from all the hiking.
Back in Cajamarca now, we spent last night celebrating the extended birthday with Mistina who spoiled me by cooking a wonderful curry and surprising me with an incredible chocolate cake, complete with candles and singing. Man, I love a good birthday!
So from here, we plan our next goal to the small town of Caraz, just north of Huaraz. It’s a 8-9 day ride with a mountain pass of 3,500m.
From there, we will plan a 4 day hike through the National Park of Huascaran where we will see the Glacier Alpamayo and hike a pass of 4,750m, so it’s gonna be cold and tough but if it’s anything like what we have seen so far, it’s gonna be stunning.
Have you sussed out the latest update on our World Bicycle Relief page? we are 79% of the way toward reaching our fundrasing goals. Thank you all for your TotallyAwesome support. Click the picture if you would like to get involved
News flash! A very special baby was due on Oct 15th and we have desperately been glued to the internet awaiting news of this arrival. Talk about 2 weeks late! Our Hugest congratulations go out to Leanne & Chris for their gorgeous new baby born yesterday on Oct 25th. We are so with you in spirit and cant wait to hug you all. Baby Tovo, the next 1000km are dedicated to you.
Some more pics from the last month. Sorry its been so long between blogs yall!
Thank you all always for your awesome support. Cant believe you made it all the way to the bottom of this one. Well done you!